From Photographer to Conservationist

By: Keely Dunham

Miami University’s campus in Oxford, Ohio is known for its beauty because of the trees that cover the landscape. This beauty, however, is in danger because of an invasive insect known as the emerald ash borer, whose larvae cause the premature death of ash trees. Mark Gilmore, a Miami University alumnus, is working to preserve these trees on campus and at Hueston Woods State Nature Preserve, a 200-acre remnant of old-growth beech-maple forest within Hueston Woods State Park.

Gilmore considers this the most iconic ash tree on campus, unfortunately it is untreatable.

Gilmore studied fine arts at Miami University in the 70’s and later went on to grad school at Bowling Green State University in visual communications

He serves as a board member of the Audubon Miami Valley (AMV) chapter of the National Audubon Society, and heads a local conservation initiative called the “Audubon Ash Tree Project.” He also runs his business, Arbor Medicine LLC, which treats ash trees against mortality from the emerald ash borer.

Hardy Eshbaugh, a former longtime chair of Botany at Miami, describes Gilmore as a passionate and committed colleague from working with him on the board of AMV.

“Without a question, Mark has been a cheerleader for the chapter’s conservation projects and helps everyone to see different ways of looking at our projects. He has in fact been exactly what I had hoped he would be for the chapter,” he said.

As he sat down in the living room of Peabody Hall, Gilmore removed his hiking boots and rested his feet on the coffee table in front of him. He had a long day of working outside but he was still excited to answer questions.

What sparked your interest in science?

My love for the environment and being outdoors began at (a) young age in grade school. I always had – as a Boy Scout and growing up here in Oxford…I always had an affinity for the environment. I’ve always been kind of a curious person so the scientific inquiry has always appealed to me. I like to know how things work.

When did you realize the emerald ash borer was a problem?

Well my wife and I are Miami Mergers and…we moved away for 20 years…We moved back around 2011. We found this really interesting house…ringed by 50-foot ash trees. They create the entire aesthetic tone of the place. If the trees were gone, I’d be so heartbroken I think I’d have to move.

After learning of the magnitude of the EAB threat, I immediately became extremely obsessed with preserving the ash trees. I started treating the trees with a do-it-yourself method…I quickly learned that what I was doing was probably not going to work forever.

emerald ash borer
Tree infected with emerald ash borer.

That’s what led me to the Arborjet trunk injection system. My mother died right in the spring when I should’ve been spraying and treating our trees…I told my wife to hire another person that did the Arborjet system.

By that winter, I realized I had to learn to do this myself because we couldn’t afford to pay (someone else). At the time the insecticide…was considered a restricted use pesticide. ‘What do I need to do to handle this stuff and buy it?’ And the answer was, at the time, I had to get a commercial pesticide applicator’s license. So I passed the test, got my license. At this point I’m simultaneously, in 2013, being invited to join the board of our local chapter of the National Audubon Society.

With the Audubon Society, you were asked to join? Were they interested in the ash trees you were working on?

The ash tree was not initially part of the conversation. The person who invited me is a…Miami professor named Hardy Eshbaugh. I thought, ‘Well, I shouldn’t say no to this. This is something I should do’.

In 2015, I created Arbor Medicine LLC. I learned that my hands were somewhat tied legally…so it became much easier for me to manage trainees and Miami students working on the Audubon Ash Tree Project if I became a licensed business.

Do you ever get discouraged?

I am extremely discouraged by this recent election process. Now, in particular, besides all the hateful rhetoric, and the misogyny, and the sexism and xenophobia…he’s a science denier.

If we were making incremental baby steps, any progress we made in eight years will be undone in eight months…I’m very concerned that this could represent a fatal nail in the coffin for any chance we have to keep the warming at the two degree centigrade threshold.

What’s your inspiration?

I know it’s cliché but, “Think globally and act locally.” That’s all I can do, and that’s what I am doing. So I am preserving ash trees in an old growth forest. I feel wonderful when I’m in the woods doing it…it gives me gratitude and a good feeling, and rather than bitch and moan I figured out a way to actually do something that I think is the right thing to do and actually has merit.

I’m also a firm believer in the idea that people lead by example; even if you think it’s just a drop in the ocean…as my late mother used to say, “[D]o the right thing.”

Who has been most supportive of you?

My wife… she’s had to put up with me being obsessed about the emerald ash borer at a time when it didn’t generate any income.

(After a long pause) People like you, the world is your oyster and you have your whole life ahead. If we have this kind of dialogue and this kind of connection, you will be that force that fills my shoes and the shoes of people far greater and bigger than me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s